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The new band of blawgers bringing law to the masses

What is life in the legal profession really like? What does the public desperately need to know? Meet the lawyers who tell it like it is

Cracking the legal profession can be a confusing and frustrating business — nailing down an elusive training contract or pupillage is stressful enough. How do prospective lawyers get a grip on what legal practice and working in the law is really like?

Bloggers — or “blawgers” — to the rescue. There is no shortage of lawyers dispensing their wisdom or thoughts online. In the past decade legal blogging and tweeting has exploded. And there is no shortage of topics. Prolific blawgers and tweeters pile in on issues ranging from Corbyn’s effectiveness, Trump’s “misogyny”, judicial independence, press regulation and even their favourite films (the original version of The Manchurian Candidate had a good chewing over the other week). And of course there is Brexit and the Supreme Court.

How to cut through the verbiage? A brief historical perspective provides a partial answer. Nine years ago Times Law asked: Isn’t it time British lawyers staked their claim in the blogosphere?

In 2008 US lawyers were tripping over themselves to launch blogs to promote their practices, inform generally, rant — or simply to give themselves something to do. Were their counterparts on this side of the Atlantic catching up? This newspaper highlighted a selection of nascent British blawgers, and there is no sharper example of the ephemeral nature of cyberspace than to see which of those are still churning and which have vanished.

Of the nine blogs highlighted then, seven seem to be more or less dead in the water. Geeklawyer has not posted since the beginning of 2015 after being disbarred for misconduct, Naked Law has been on a break since the end of 2012 and Bloody Relations (a family law blog from the barrister Jacqui Gilliatt) appears to have called it quits in 2010.

There are survivors. BabyBarista has regular posts, as does The IPKat (you guessed it, updates on intellectual property), and The Magistrate’s Blog was still posting at the end of last year. But since 2008 a new band of blawgers has crashed on to the scene. They are boosted by a platform that hardly existed in 2008 — Twitter — which gives them a direct route to existing and potential readers.

So who are the big blogging beasts of the law, what do they have to say, why do they bother and are they worth the time? “I blog primarily because I fear there’s a dangerous gap in public understanding of law and justice,” says one of the legal blogosphere’s hottest properties, who is also its biggest enigma, the Secret Barrister. This blogger adamantly refuses to disclose an identity, even confidentially, apart from confirming that he or she is a criminal law specialist. Doubtless the reason for that secrecy is that the blog is cutting edge and opinionated.

“It is that gap that allows politicians to wreak merry havoc on the justice system, with little to no accountability,” the Secret Barrister continues. “Too often ordinary people only realise the deficiencies, such as the chaos caused by cuts to legal aid and the Crown Prosecution Service, when they get sucked into the system, by which time it is too late.”

Most law bloggers are not as shy as the Secret Barrister. Carl Gardner, a legal academic and former Whitehall lawyer, writes the Head of Legal blog, which covers anything from tax to terrorism. Who is he pitching his thoughts to? “I think of my average reader as the Newsnight viewer, the Any Questions listener or indeed the Times reader,” he says. “Someone who is fairly seriously interested in current affairs. When I began, I thought, being one of those people myself, that although there was plenty of deeper commentary on economics and politics out there in the media and on the web, there wasn’t really very much about law.”

Some prominent blawgers acknowledge that there is an element of self-interest in their efforts. Lucy Reed, a barrister who writes the family law blog Pink Tape, says part of her motivation is that blogging is “a mechanism for nudging me to keep myself up to date — it’s better than a Continuing Professional Development tick-box form”.

She also readily admits that her blog is a platform “to vent and to inform or provoke discussion. I think we’re quite atomistic at the family Bar, and talking about the bigger picture and the things that are difficult for us gets pushed aside for the demands of the case on the day.

“It’s good to create some kind of space to make contact. [Blogging has] given me a sense of community I felt was lacking before. It’s reassuring to know others worry about the same things I do, even if we don’t all agree.”

Indeed, disagreement is a hallmark of blogging. Keyboard warriors do not hesitate to loose off with reactions, and sometimes life gets nasty. “It certainly helps to have a tough skin,” says Adam Wagner, a barrister who writes the UK Human Rights Blog. “I have had plenty of abuse over the years and don’t consider myself a confrontational blogger, though human rights are probably the most contentious legal issue in the UK at the moment aside from Brexit.” Generally, he adds, “I have had fantastic, interesting and challenging responses to my writing.”

There are horror stories. Perhaps because Pink Tape is written by a woman, Reed has been at the sharp end of online vitriol. “I’ve been criticised, insulted and called all sorts of unprintable names, and even sued for defamation — unsuccessfully.

“I try always to admit when I’ve got something wrong and to be open to changing my mind. I allow a right of reply and publish and respond to most comments, which can be interesting, insulting, legally impermissible, repetitive, pleading or ridiculous. It can be quite exhausting, but it’s important to try to have a dialogue. Otherwise, what’s the point?”